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Old Posted Sep 23, 2005, 9:42 PM
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Developer shows new vision of Coney

Artist renderings of an indoor mall envisioned by developer Joseph Sitt, of Thor Equities, for constuction along the Coney Island boardwalk. The plan could transform Coney Island into a year-round destination.

By Ariella Cohen
The Brooklyn Papers

Over the next few weeks, the city Department of Parks and Recreation will decide who gets to operate Brooklyn’s favorite rickety ride — the Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster.

But while the Cyclone is obviously an icon of Coney Island, it may soon become a remnant of its past.

Joseph Sitt, owner of Thor Equities, the development company that operates the Gallery at Fulton Mall in Downtown Brooklyn and owns over 12 acres of seaside property in the faded amusement mecca, has visions of a glitzy boardwalk entertainment strip that looks more Vegas than Astroland.

In digital renderings sent to The Brooklyn Papers this week, a Nike-sponsored climbing wall takes up one region of a sweeping indoor amusement zone. A fiberglass elephant gleams upon a double-tiered carousel.

The House of Blues plays ground-floor anchor to another glassy, indoor-entertainment zone, much like the national chain does at its boardwalk location on the ground floor of the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City or at Barefoot Landing on Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.

In describing his vision for the amusement complex to a New York magazine reporter, Sitt also talked about a 100-foot-tall waterslide in an indoor water park and reported that he is currently in talks with movie theater companies Loews and UA/Regal.

So far, Sitt’s vision has generated enthusiasm, albeit that of the guarded and slightly ambivalent breed, among those whose properties would be affected.

“I have spoken with Sitt and other interested developers and I am sure they know that no matter the grandeur of their designs they will have to retain the feeling — I don’t know how to describe it — that will allow it to blend to Coney island as it is now,” said Horace Bullard, a Coney Island property owner and founder of the Kansas Fried Chicken chain, who at one time planned to rebuild Coney’s historic Steeplechase Park.

“I’ve read a lot of things, but I guess I am like a lot of people — I’ll wait and see what happens,” said Cyclone roller coaster manager Mark Blumenthal, an employee of Astroland for the past 24 years.

Bullard sold the former Washington Baths on West 21st Street and Surf Avenue, where Sitt plans a condo development, but still owns a vacant, 4-acre tract where a roller coaster once stood. He agrees with Sitt that all-season attractions like the climbing wall or a giant indoor water slide would keep true to the resort’s pleasure-zone heritage and of course, make Coney Island a year-round draw for the city.

“It is an exciting plan, as I am sure many that will be proposed will be,” he told The Brooklyn Papers.

While Sitt did not offer comment on his company’s plans or wishes for the Astroland property, he has made no promises to the current operators.

Adding tension to the Cyclone negotiations, a misaligned piece of track on the 85-foot-tall, wood-and-steel roller coaster sent four riders to the hospital with whiplash two weeks ago, an accident attributed by the Astroland operators to old age. The famous ride was shut down during the Labor Day weekend as a result of the accident.

The low-tech attraction, which is 78 years old, is owned by the Parks Department and, as stipulated by law, bid out every 10 years. Two weeks ago, the city closed its bidding period.

The bidding yielded proposals from a number of interested parties — the number of bids and their content are under wraps until the city makes its decision — a parks spokesperson said.

Aside from Astroland’s owner, the Albert family which currently operates the roller coaster, none of the bidders have publicly come forward.

Blumenthal said he had not heard of rival bidders.

“We are getting ready for next year,” he said. “At this time, there is no indication we are not going to be here.”

Yet, as change wafts, as sure as the scent of a Nathan’s hot dog, over the boardwalk there are questions about who will take over area leases.

“Landlords are only giving one-year extensions on leases now,” said Dick Zigun, president of Coney Island USA, the nonprofit community arts organization that organizes the annual Mermaid Parade on the boardwalk and Surf Avenue.

This November, the 10-year lease Zigun holds on Coney Island USA’s current Surf Avenue location will expire and he wants to move to a derelict bank building at Surf Avenue and West 12th Street that was recently bought up by Thor Equities.

Coney Island USA has already sent a letter of intent to Sitt and is now awaiting a response.

“He appreciates what we do,” said Zigun. “He hasn’t said, yes, but he hasn’t said, no.”
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